“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether, such as I am, except these bonds” (Acts 26:27-28). The apostle was trying to persuade men to become such as he was himself, and the term that Agrippa used to define such a one was Christian. We believe that many people who recognize the value of being a Christian do not understand how to become and remain such. It is not strange that there is confusion on this subject, for there is much conflicting teaching. There are hundreds of differing sects and denominations, and each one has a different definition of Christian. I want to avoid teaching my own opinion, or that of any other man. If I should offer my opinion it would merely add to the confusion that already exists. My purpose is to point out what the Bible says on this subject.
We begin with a self evident fact: Before a thing can be, there must be a beginning. Some people are Christians, and others are not. Before the non-Christian becomes a Christian there must of necessity be some kind of change. To find that change defined in scripture is our first problem. Whatever the change is, it is preceded by teaching. When Jesus sent his apostles to preach the gospel to all nations, he said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). At another time Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, and they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father cometh unto me” (John 6:44-45). Notice Jesus said, “They shall all be taught of God.” None can come to Christ, except as they are drawn of God. But how does God draw? He draws by teaching. A statement recorded in the eleventh chapter of Acts shows the necessity of teaching.
Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, to seek Saul: and when he found him he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26).
Disciples are obedient learners. Barnabas and Saul taught much people. Those who received the teaching were disciples, and they were called Christians.
To become Christians people must be taught, but not every kind of teaching causes people to be Christians. “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” If one follows the teaching of the devil to perfection, he will only be like the devil. Much of the teaching that is done by religious people is in reality only the teaching of men. If one follows such teaching perfectly, he will only become like the men whose teaching he accepts. To become a Christian one must be taught the doctrine of Christ. “And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2).
The New Testament tells us what Paul preached to the Corinthians. He first preached certain facts concerning Christ:
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
Paul was determined to know only Christ and Him crucified, but that knowledge included the death of Christ for man’s sins, his burial and resurrection according to the scriptures. Now we have definitely established the beginning of teaching that leads people to become Christians: it is first of all that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried and rose again.
As we proceed, step by step, we learn exactly how one becomes a Christian. There must be teaching; the teaching must be the doctrine of Christ; and the doctrine of Christ included man’s need for a Savior, and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross to meet that need. One may hear this much, believe it, and yet not actually become a Christian; for a Christian is a disciple, and discipleship requires obedience. There must be something in the teaching of Christ that one can obey. Disciples are obedient learners. Christ saves the obedient. “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Heb. 5:9). “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). Freedom from sin follows obedience. The gospel of Christ begins with facts for the heart to believe, but it also contains commands that man is to obey. It is not necessary that we should be ignorant of the obedience required by the gospel of Christ.
Paul determined not to know anything among the Corinthians save Jesus Christ and him crucified. Of his preaching at Corinth, it is written, “And many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). “And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v. 11). When people hear the word of God taught, those who believe it are moved to be baptized. A preacher by the name of Philip once preached to a city of Samaria, and the record says, “But when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12). When Philip preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, he was preaching Christ, for we read, “And Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5).
He who preaches Christ must preach the command of Christ to the alien sinner to be baptized for the remission of sins. This is why people who hear and believe the teaching of Christ want to be baptized. Baptism is the beginning of obedience. It is the beginning of discipleship. It is the beginning of the new life in Christ. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12). Yes, it is in baptism that one is raised with Christ. It is at baptism that one becomes a Christian. He is not a Christian before being taught. He is not a Christian before believing. He is not a Christian before obedience. The obedience required of the alien sinner is baptism for the remission of sins. Let us not forget that baptism is the beginning, and not the end of the obedience required by Christ. Being a Christian requires a beginning point. That beginning point is baptism.